Jakarta has 22 million inhabitants. Ten million of which are actually documented. The sound of the city is nothing short of explosive – as it has known to have the worst traffic in the world. Five times a day, a choir of mosques reaches from the ocean of slums and clash with each other to create a sound that I can only describe as a hornets nest. I watch the children play in a trash filled river, black with oil and rotting with the bodies of dead animals. I live in a tower, surrounded by slums – sheet metal houses, no bathrooms, open sewage lines running along deep ditches on the side of the road. The air is thick with exhaust and cigarettes (1 in 3 men smoke in Indonesia.) There are no mountains to be seen, in fact – there is nothing but sky scrapers and old broken down homes as far as the eye can see; but it has its moments. On a windy day after a fresh rain (which is too acidic to stand in) you can watch the sun fall behind the smog and the glow is not of this world.


At night, after the 4th prayer – the streets fill with Warungs (food carts) and hundreds of different foods are made right in front of your face. You can’t imagine the variety – the saute, ayam goreng, martabak, the gado-gado. All of it being prepared at breakneck speed; it has the finesse of a circus. Families of four on a single motorbike – kids on mom and dad’s shoulders, infants, toddlers, piled on. They weave in and out of traffic with incredible confidence. Really, it makes what we find dangerous look like a joke. But what makes one feel more alive than the threat of harm? I get around on “Ojeks” – just dudes on the side of the road with a motorcycle and you hop on the back. Sometimes they know where you want them to go – other times you just have to point. If you have never had the experience of being a minority and being a spectacle everywhere you go, this is the place to do it. Thousands of eyes study me with blank expressions, some smile – most don’t. It’s not always the safest thing to be friendly in this city – have to put on an unimpressed mask to ward off troublemakers. Groups of kids will harass you for money relentlessly, shouting insults and pulling on your backpack. For the most part you just ignore them, but this is not easy on the empathy. Just yesterday, en route to a part of the city, a man with a mangled foot just sat in one of the busiest intersections (one of the few that have a light) and drug himself around asking for money. I kid you not, you would have thought him suicidal – the sheer speed and amount of traffic. I see my fair share of these things in a day, and it never gets any easier.

Life here in the city, is not for the faint of heart – I found this out the hard way. It plays with your nerves, your morality, your health, and your optimism. And then, you become a part of it and navigate it with ease – which is no ease at all, but this is relative. And you start to see something beautiful at work. An unimaginable web of lives bouncing off one another in what can only be described as exciting. Everyday faced with new challenges and lessons that are simply not found elsewhere. You develop skills that make you a veteran of the overwhelming. There is no escape, and so you must compensate.

But this is Jakarta, and it says so little about Indonesia as a whole. The countryside is unparalleled and full of secrets and ancient beauty. The islands are the stuff of dreams. The volcanoes rise thousands of meters into the sky and dance with the clouds. I was lucky enough to climb Mt. Merapi – one of the largest in Indonesia. You begin the hike at 12:00 a.m. and reach the final plateau somewhere around 6:00 a.m. to watch the sun rise. The final 2 hours is spent climbing the caldera which requires a great deal of confidence. Ancient temples litter Indonesia – monuments to a vibrant history. The markets are alive and bustling with hecklers, bargainers, and merchants. Monkeys break into homes and eat food and scale the power lines to escape. I can’t help but smile at the beautiful anarchy of this country. I have never felt so human.

I will be back,

I will, be back.

Time, and the Tide that Takes Us

Hello fellow GLI’ers, travelers, inquirers, and spectators alike. This may be one the first times you have heard from me in GLI almost entirely – I like to sit quietly and develop in the background, but I am feeling inspired to bottle up my new life and attempt to share it with you.

If you are not in the mood to read – this is not for you at the moment, because I must ask you to take a minute center yourself and digest what I am going to share with you despite your own wonderful experiences thus far (which I have been keeping up on – don’t worry.) This entry will take time and thought, so please do not continue if you are in an environment where this is not facilitated. For those of you interested – take apart each moment as if you were experiencing them yourself.

And so it goes . . .

You may want to hear that I am having a new experience and it was a struggle at first but I developed and now I am here, yadee yadee ya. I cannot offer you this, I have something else to illustrate to you in this entry – a more interpersonal look into what it is to leave our lives behind and absorb the lessons this complex globe has presented us with. I am in Jakarta – 7th most populated city in the world with 22 million people in the area (don’t believe Google – the city is broken into parts) and the economic capital of Indonesia. This place tests the senses in every way it can; polluted, congested (voted worst traffic in the world – and its true, believe me,) corrupt, dangerous, and entirely beautiful. To risk your life every day just crossing the street has gifted me something few will ever gain – especially among our peer group. My life has slowed down – it is survival in this place. I watch children bathe in trash-filled rivers of some rancid color in the mornings, you even get sick from the rain if your not careful  – the air is thick with cigarette smoke and vehicle emissions – it is a sea of motorcycles. Metal shacks, homes that are made up of trash bags and plastic under the bridges. The rich with their walled off homes and broken glass barriers right next door. It is a city of extremes. I go to bed each day in this city thankful I made it through – and I love every bit of that feeling. So far I have been held at knife point, nearly robbed in taxis, faced near deaths on motorcycles (they are called Ojeks and they are just dudes that will take your money to get you places; quite efficient because they weave in and out of cars in traffic jams – costs about 3 bucks and is a cheap thrill,) giant six foot deep holes in the sidewalk that lead to the under-city flood ways. When I say sidewalk I mean slabs of stone suspended above the deep drain ditches and not removed from traffic. To some this may sound horrifying – though I hope not all of you because I have found my strength in these conditions. Some days I will talk with the children playing futbol in the streets and watch them laugh  at my terrible language skills (they speak Bahasa.) I see young men and women picking up trash to build a home on the side of the street — it really makes me take the time to not only appreciate my position but become bitter with it. To think our lives are so easy back home that we create out own problems just to have them; our phones being slow, our clothes not matching, the food wasn’t warm enough, our “horrible” homework and the opportunity to become educated from our efforts. I understand this is pessimistic – but perhaps we don’t spend enough time acknowledging this fact. Too often do we hide behind the phrases like “we are so lucky” and “there are hungry children in the world,” this is simply not justice, but rather a pathetic coping mechanism we have adopted. But let me shed some light on why I am speaking in this way – subjects that make us uncomfortable are often where answers worth investigating reside. We cannot punish ourselves for our upbringing nor can we neglect the path of understanding. We were told growing up “be yourself,” which is all fine and dandy but they forgot to mention one important piece – it is not just a sugary pursuit, there are in fact consequences if we do not truly find ourselves. Travel is the way door to this beginning – it is not just an opportunity it is an obligation. And as everyone knows – a good beginning is everything, for it influences everything thereafter. But there is a trap in this too, I do not mean (as some of you must be rolling your eyes saying “I know, I know,”)  the type of travel as in go to a country and hit the clubs and hike a mountain or two, I do not mean stay in three – four star hotels, in a place that will cater to your cultural misunderstandings – I do not mean just open these doors, you kick them open and throw yourself into the unknown. There is nothing like depending on yourself to take action when on the inside you just want to shut down, stop everything, and go home. You will be hurt, and shocked, disoriented, even depressed – yet these are all indications that you are becoming what is at your core. It is so sad to think some of us or our peers will never get to discover this until much later – if their lucky. Buried in their Facebooks and Snapchats and whatever else consumes us these days.

So yes, this world is new, the culture is vibrant, it is intoxicating and shocking and just about every other cliche descriptor you wish to throw forth – but I wanted to bring to you growth at a deeper level. Of course it is different for everyone – that is the beautiful part of exploring – you never quite see it all.

To those of you growing with me. . . I commend you and your innate need to see this world, it is not for everyone. For those of you reading this that may be considering an experience such as this, it is your duty as a curious human – a biological product of adaption, struggle, love, and compassion – to allow yourself this opportunity. My advice – go somewhere that makes you completely uncomfortable and scared and take it with stride – you will forever be able to overcome the challenges in life we never understood in our first world silver spoon. Let me take this moment to recognize that I am sorry if this offends anyone – I do not ignore that we all have had very real problems in our lives back home, but a little perspective may grant you more insight than you’re prepared for; a beautiful thing. Hell, the first two weeks I was here I was exploring Jakarta’s night life with some exchange students and a few locals and it was a wonderful night, until I walked outside at 4 a.m. and in the midst of my laughter watched a car smash into three idle motorcyclists about 15 feet from myself and drive off into the city – I was informed this is a very common thing here as well as instances wires being run from tree to tree on the street at night at about neck level by gangs. I ran over and saw a man who I was almost certain was dead – that eerie limpness that you just can’t fake. On top of it  all – one of the club security picked him up by his arm and let his neck hang – I thought to myself if he wasn’t dead a before that, he most certainly is now. My heart was racing but I had a little knowledge of first response. I was able to get his helmet off and I sat his limp body up and held his airway straight up and down. he was frothing and non responsive. He remained this way for about 5 or 6 minutes – hard to tell with that much adrenaline. I then heard him trying to breath – before that I couldn’t find a pulse but once again that might have been my adrenaline. Finally I sort of slapped him awake and kept his airway clear – his leg was obviously contorted but we eventually were able to get him into a car and off to the hospital he went – I have no idea what happened to him. That experience will give anyone a sense of value in the things we didn’t quite recognize in our easy lives. Though do not let this illustrate the whole of my travels – this is not sin city. The people here are actually very warm, much more so than our clique like structure back home. They are happy – I believe this is due to the fact they must take it one step at a time – and not plan out their whole future in one sitting. Its hard to explain but it just works differently. I am glad to have been gifted this perspective. I will be able to carry it home with me and live a much more rational and caring life. I can’t even remember what a hot shower feels like or what its like to drink from the tap whenever I please.

I hope this does a little justice to the very complex and beautiful task of a traveler – these experiences are fungible aspects of me as whole.

Thank you GLI – and to my peers I wish you the best of luck. Its easy to travel and not have traveled at all – but from your blogs I can see you are all well suited to take this for what it is. You are all beautiful people – please enjoy every piece of this time. You’ll never get it back.

I encourage you all to consider, and criticize my words in a passionate light.

From one side of the world to another,

-Leland HIMG_0993[1]